Four Reasons STEM Gets Shortchanged

October 18, 2018  

The 100Kin10 Teacher Forum is the vehicle that enables 100Kin10 to infuse the priorities and work of the network with what STEM teachers are experiencing “on the ground” in their schools across the country. Members of the Teacher Forum hold listening sessions with their local STEM teaching communities and share back with us what STEM teachers are hearing, seeing, and experiencing in the field.

In our last Share-Out call, Teacher Forum members expressed that many schools continue to struggle to find the time for meaningful STEM learning. Four themes emerged to explain the lack of time for STEM: 1) pressure from standardized testing, 2) administrators undervaluing STEM, 3) a shallow view of STEM, and 4) lack of guidance for teachers on how to teach STEM well.

Pressure from Standardized Assessments

The pressure surrounding performance on standardized assessments continues to have a negative impact on STEM learning according to our Teacher Forum members. Significant time is dedicated to test prep, resulting in lessons that focus on rote memorization of facts and in the deprioritization of meaningful STEM learning opportunities. This is challenging for many STEM teachers who want to engage their students in solving real problems and thinking critically about the world around them. Our Teacher Forum members explained how they have overcome this challenge by integrating STEM into simple activities like playing on a teeter-totter or constructing a bridge from spaghetti noodles. Others are challenging it by showing how they are using lab reports rather than classic tests to assess student learning.

“There are other ways of evaluating [student learning] that are valid other than tests and quizzes.”

Administrators Undervalue STEM

Sometimes STEM is sacrificed for testing, but in other cases, administrators undervalue STEM, not understanding the importance of quality STEM experiences. As a result, they do not allocate sufficient time to STEM, even taking time away from these subjects to make room for other initiatives. In fact, one Teacher Forum member’s school has removed Science entirely from some students’ schedules in order to provide students with a study-skills course.

“In my school, Science is seen as a lesser subject. That is the mentality of all teachers as it trickles down from the administration.”

Shallow View of STEM

The focus on standardized assessments and the devaluing of STEM is further complicated by the fact that many administrators and teachers have a limited view of STEM learning. They believe a one-off experience checks the STEM box, or that STEM is limited to technology. Teacher Forum members push back against these limited views by advocating for teachers to engage students beyond facts and to provide opportunities for critical thinking.

“[Students] could learn more about how the world works by tripping over a log than by doing a fake, overly-constructed worksheet on a science topic.”

Lack of Guidance

Even when STEM is prioritized, many teachers struggle to effectively use the time allocated to it because they are not receiving the guidance or training they need to properly execute STEM lessons. We heard that many teachers want to provide authentic STEM learning through experimentation and failure and inquiry-based lessons, but feel unprepared to do so effectively. Consequently, teachers can find themselves facilitating shallow “hands-on learning” activities where students simply follow step-by-step directions with little opportunity for any critical-thinking or actual problem-solving.

“We want to focus on unifying concepts...we don’t want to simply focus on facts. We want kids to have a better understanding of the world around them.”